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Campfires

campfire 4

When my kids were in elementary school we spent one week each summer at a camp in the Western Adirondaks.  It was a small piece of property on the banks of one the many lakes with cabins or campsites that you can rent. The groups renting the cabins would all share the lakefront beach, picnic tables, dock and a huge stone fire pit area. My favorite part of the week was when everyone would gather around the fire each night. Early in the week, we were just introducing ourselves but by the end of the week, we were old friends. Each year, the same families would rent their favorite cabins but there would always be one or two new families to meet. It was a tradition that I grew to love and look forward to each year.

There was a rhythm to life on the lake. The families would do their own thing during the day – hiking, swimming, fishing, kayaking. Then after dinner, one of the men would wander over to the stacked firewood and start to split some logs. Someone else would campfire5gather up smaller twigs and they would start to stack the wood in the fire pit. Soon they would have a fire going. One by one folks would start to come out of their cabins and gather ‘round the fire. Some would bring marshmallows, some would bring graham crackers and chocolate. Before you knew it, everyone in the camp was pulling up a chair to toast marshmallows and trade stories of their day.

That’s the way campfires are. People are drawn to them. It would be dark around the lake at night so the only light came from the fire. It would get cold as soon as the sun went down. As the night wore on, you would see other fires start up around the lake and you could hear people talking and laughing at their own campsites. We would gather closer to our fire and talk into the night.

As soon as the fire was lit, people were drawn to it. It was a light in a dark place. It provided warmth on a chilly night. Not only were people drawn to it, but everyone was welcome there. No one was ever turned away from the campfire. You might think that we were all young families so we had a lot in common, but that’s not really true. When I think of the cabins and who stayed in them there was a lot of diversity. Our family was young, middle class, and there was another family about the same age. They had three athletic boys, a large boat and loved to go sailing and hiking every day. The next cabin held grandparents with their adult daughter and young grandson who was an only child. Next to them was a middle-aged couple with grown kids. The father played golf every day and their kids came up and each spent a few days as their job schedules allowed. These were families with very different dynamics than mine. There were also two elderly nuns who rented the smallest cabin on the lot. They were very sweet and would only came to the fire early in the evening so they didn’t bother the “young folks”.  We’d beg them to stay and talk with us and sometimes they would for a bit. We would also have first time visiting families. One year we had a family of older parents and a young foster child with some severe social issues. I know they felt awkward but everyone did their best to make them welcome. The next year another family with a single child came. campfire 1The first day I invited them to the campfire but only the wife and child came down. She explained that her husband was watching a ball game on TV. Same thing the next night. The third night the husband came to the fire and we realized what was going on. He had been drinking quite a bit. The wife was embarrassed and expected those of us around the fire to exclude them but she was surprised when we all welcomed him and then kept right on talking and roasting marshmallows. That’s how campfires work – even groups of people who are very different will bond together and feel welcome. Even people with problems that may make them difficult to be around are welcome.

That’s how God is – He is a light that everyone is drawn to and finds a warm welcome. God doesn’t turn anyone away. The church, as a reflection of a loving God should be the same way – drawing people in and making them welcome. But sadly, because we are just human, we don’t always do a good job with that. Though we aim to be inclusive,  churches often become exclusive. It’s human nature to want to gather with those who will look, talk and think as you do. A healthy church body is one that allows God to raise them above their own human nature and lift them into a Godly nature that can become a welcoming campfire. A campfire that those outside the sanctuary doors can see and be drawn to. All those different types of families will make for a messy mix. But a messy mix united by God is beautiful to see and even more beautiful to be enfolded into.

Without oxen the stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest. 

Proverbs 14:4

A life that is lived will get messy. People will mess up but God doesn’t. Our campfires may sputter out but God’s is always burning bright. That is why we can always find a welcome with God. You always belong and fit in with God. Even when you mess up, when do something wrong, you belong. The wife of the alcoholic was expecting a cold shoulder from those of us around the campfire. She was a bit confused when we still welcomed her family even after knowing her secret. It’s an amazing moment when youcampfire 2 finally realize that no matter how “good” you try to be, you will mess up at some point and your secrets will slip out. Maybe it’s something little, maybe something pretty big, but we all make some bad choices at some point. We all sin. No one is so good that they can say that they haven’t sinned today. But this doesn’t scare God. He is not put off by our bad choices. He is not going to shut you out because you did something wrong. He will always love and welcome you. He will expect you to repent and help you change that behavior, but he won’t push you away. You are always welcome with God.

Everyday someone is hiding from God because they feel they won’t fit in or that they have messed things up so badly that they wouldn’t be welcome. Maybe you know someone like that. Maybe you are someone like that. I know I’ve been there and will, at times, still find myself slipping back into that line of thinking. Human nature is tough to beat. But I keep looking for the campfire that shines in the darkness. It’s not a perfect fire. The logs may have splinters that draw blood and may still be a bit green. Sometimes there is more smoke than fire. Yet, if it’s a campfire belonging to God, there will be warmth and light beyond our limited capabilities. And no one will be turned away from that campfire. Not even me.

campfire

God is light: in Him there is no darkness at all.

1 John 1:5b

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Freedom

Freedom – it can mean so many things to different people.

Child-running-in-field

When I think of freedom, I am transported back to the woods by my childhood home where my friends and I would play for hours on end. During the school year, we would cut through the woods to get to school. We weren’t supposed to but we felt free to do so anyway. There was a path that cut through the trees but there was another area with an open meadow on a gentle slope. I loved to run down that slope coming home from school on a spring day -arms spread wide, long hair getting hopelessly tangled in the wind, just running down the hill in a moment of complete freedom!

You don’t get that many “twirling in the sunshine in a grassy meadow” moments of care free freedom as an adult. Life isn’t a movie set and as we age a million worries jump in to replace childhood freedom.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17

I have to admit, I never saw much freedom in being a follower of Christ. There is a whole set of do’s and don’ts that Christians have to follow, right? On Sundays, I would take extra pains to dress nicely and act respectfully and sit quietly in church. Isn’t that the way things are done? I remember one boss I had who would always apologize if he cussed in front of me because I was a “church lady” and he seemed to think that I wouldn’t tolerate such language. One time, I was planning a weekend getaway with friends and someone asked if I “needed to be in church on Sunday morning”. Now, in all honesty, I do like to dress up a bit for church since I am so casually dressed during the week. I don’t like to hear swearing, but I do a fair share of it myself so I don’t think it’s my place to correct anyone else. And I do like to visit other churches when I am away from home. But all these perceived “rules” that I live with are (for the most part) manmade, not God ordained. We expect certain things from ourselves. We accept the expectations of others and allow that to rule our lives. Yet, God repeatedly offers us freedom.

The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:7b

prison-bars We all have allowed prison walls to build up in our lives but Jesus promises that following Him will set us free. Yet doesn’t the very idea of following someone imply a new set of rules to follow?

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

All of Jesus’ teachings are truth shining out against a twisted world. Everything you havesky 1 ever learned can be held up against Jesus’ words and the lies will be exposed while freeing truth is revealed.

What are the lies that can imprison us? Just think of all the basic lies we fall into everyday – “I am not good enough”, “I am not strong enough”, “I am not smart enough”. I was at a job interview once, in which I was told that I didn’t “look the part”. It was gently hinted at that I was too old, not stylish enough, my makeup was too simple and I should try to dress in a more slimming way, in other words – too fat! I fell for every one of those criticisms that had nothing to do with my ability to perform the actual job. It left me discouraged and feeling pretty useless. Isn’t this what our society tries to do with us every day? You need this product to feel better and this one to look better. Most women I know cringe at the thought of shopping for new jeans or, even worse, a bathing suit! Why? Because we have been told what things should look like and have never learned to appreciate who we actually are.

open roadNow here is a freeing truth that I, as a follower of Christ, need to take to heart. He already knows exactly who I am and still loves me. He doesn’t care that I prefer to wear sneakers rather than heels. He knows every inch of the road that he has laid out for me and already knows exactly where I will fall along the way. Notice I didn’t say “if I fall” but “where I will fall”. He still loves me. He doesn’t pay any attention to the lies that so easily trip me up.

Those lies come into play when we allow our failures, combined with our sins to identify us. We start to see ourselves in terms of our darkness and not as a reflection of God’s light. God has promised that through repentance, He will remove our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and once removed, He will never hold that sin against us again. Even though we tend to identify ourselves by our sinfulness, God sees those who have committed themselves to Him as blameless (Philippians 2:15)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:23-24

Let these words sink in for minute. If you are like me, you will need to do this daily. Our past can either help us to grow or cause us to sink into the mire of our own sinful nature. We make the choice and by reaching out to God, He will do the rest. Just as Boaz does for Ruth (Ruth 3-4), when we let our intentions to follow God be known to Him, He shows us how he has already stepped up to the plate and taken care of our redemption for us. Though we are sinful, God is waiting for us to turn to Him so that He can forgive us and put our past in its proper place – behind us as we move forward.

Freedom

What does this godly freedom look like? Paul talked about being free from sin in Romans. Not free from ever sinning again but being free from the things that sin can trap you in, like negative thoughts and a dark outlook on the world. Things like fear, anxiety, doubts and anger. Things that can wrap around you so tightly you struggle just to take a breath. But God gives us freedom- the freedom to celebrate life, the freedom to love ourselves and others. Freedom to take just that one breath.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So, if the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8:34-36

fireworks

Happy 4th of July – Celebrate Freedom!

 

 

 

 


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A Conversation about love

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Me: You tell us to love one another and I was wondering if this is an all-around, across-the-board type of love. ‘Cause I have to tell you, I’ve run across some folks that are just plain unlovable. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth.

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God: A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Me: Yes, I’ve heard you say that, but I’ve been having some trouble. You see, there’s some people out there who just drive me crazy. I don’t agree with them but they keep on talking to me. I try to talk and they don’t listen to me. And some of them, well, they’re just plain mean. So, I was hoping that maybe you had some exceptions to the rule that would help me out.

loveGod: (I think I heard Him let out a mournful, soft sigh) Love one another deeply (1 Peter 1:22b).

Me: You’re not gonna make this easy, are you? Look, I’ve been trying but, lately, it’s been so hard.

God: (He leans down close to me, His voice is gentle, not condemning) But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” lend to “sinners” expecting to be paid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Me: (in a very small voice) You mean like to way You have been kind to me, even when I love3don’t appreciate it, even though I can’t possibly pay you back? (even smaller voice) I don’t think I can.

God: Remember the words that I gave to my servant Paul: “Now about brotherly love, we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). I have already shown you how to love. As I explained it to John, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us….since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11).

Me: (my voice barely above a whisper) Could you go over it again?

love 5God: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1b). Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Me: (I can’t look up, I slump down at His feet) That’s a tall order, God.

God: My child, you are already rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17), so live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) by serving one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

Me: (I dare to glance upwards) I love you, Lord. I will try.

God: My love is already within you, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

Me: Will you help me?

Matthew verse

God: And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age

Me: Amen

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Soar the Heavens

Even though You give us wings to soar the Heavens,

there is still a part of us bound to the rock of earth

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just as a butterfly sips at nectar

and a bird cracks open the seedP1010354

like a hawk searching for his prey

we, too, feed on the beauty around usP1020515

until we have sufficiently grown on any measure to appreciate the beauty of Heaven.

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Even though our souls have wings to soar the Heavens

our bodies belong to the solidity of Earth.

Let my soul sing with the joy of Heaven while my heart struggles with the pain of earth.

Teach me, Lord, to soar the Heavens while walking the earth.P1020470

My soul clings to you

Your right hands upholds me.

Psalm 63:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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An Alabaster Jar

 

Alabaster vases KR showroom

Did she tilt the jar

And gently pour

Ah, no, broken

Given to the Lord

 

There at His feetdownload (2)

Perfume was splashed

As freely as

A child’s laugh

 

The jar I have

Is cracked and worn

It’s stood the test

Of many storms

 

But, comes a timedownload (1)

We benefit

from all these cracks

A fire’s been lit

 

It shines through

All the broken places

Its light spills intoheart leaves

Darkened spaces

 

Only now can the Potter

Repair, restore

My fragile heart

To refill me once more.

 

An alabaster jar

We live within

Split wide open

To You given.download

 

 

“where ever the Gospel is preached …

what she has done will be told”

for the Gospel is more than the words

it’s in her eyes, hands, feet and soul.

 


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Being Still

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Being Still

The other day I wrote about the dragons that we all fight as we battle through life. In Exodus 3, God had a beautiful land waiting for the Israelites but they would have to fight their way through a desert to get there. We all have choices to make every day, battles of temptation to overcome every day. I’ve often said that being a Christian is not for the proverbial timid church mouse. Today I am reading in Exodus 14 and came across this verse:

The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still. Exodus 14:14

I think of all the times in the Bible that men like David and Joshua and countless others led the Israelite army into battle and realize that there are just as many times that they are told to “be still” and let God do his thing. So I wonder how do you know when to step up and fight and when do you need to “be still”.

Just today a friend was telling me that several times in devotionals ever the last two days, she had read verses that emphasized the need to be still. She felt that it meant her need to stop the hectic pace of her daily life and just rest in Christ. This is how I have always viewed verses about being still and it’s a very important practice that should be the foundation of your daily prayer life. But reading this verse in the middle of the very active story of the Israelites flight from Egypt, the whole idea of “being still” seems a bit out of place.

Then I realized something that has been nibbling at the edges of my thoughts as I read these passages about Moses in Exodus. There were times when Moses was called to do battle with Pharoah and there were times when he was told to lay low.

“Stretch out your arm”,

“Stretch out your staff”,

“Stand before Pharoah and say…”

These are all the things that Moses had to do before God would “lay bare His holy arm, in the sight of all the nations, and the end of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10). Moses had to make a choice each day about whether he would obey God. God sent plagues, pillars of fire and parted a whole sea but always allowed Moses to make his own choice first.

I’ve come to think that the dragons that we face in daily battle are the choices we must make in response to the temptations that we do battle with. Every day, in multiple ways, we are faced with the choice of whether or not we will follow God. As we slay each dragon another may rise up and we will fight again and again. What we need to keep in mind is that as difficult and dangerous as our individual battles may be, Jesus has already fought the biggest battle of all. The cross is the place where He won, and where we should be still. We have nothing to prove, there is nothing more to do and we can rest in assurance that Christ has prepared everything for us. That battle has been fought, swords have clashed and He has won. In that, I can be still.

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Be still before the LORD, all mankind… Zechariah2:13


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Fighting Dragons

dragon drawingThe Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey- the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.”

Exodus 3:8

The Israelites were in trouble. They were being held in slavery because the Egyptians were afraid of them. God, who is always merciful, hears and responds to their pleas for help. This story is often used as one of encouragement. I, too, have thought of the the story of the Exodus and felt renewed hope for a personal struggle. But we usually only read the first part. We stop reading right after God promises to rescue His people. And why not? That’s the good part. That’s the part where we can draw reassurance from. But it’s not the end of the verse. God promises to lead them to a wonderful land “flowing with milk and honey”. Notice that God doesn’t just promise the necessities, like bread and water. He’s offering luxuries to a desperate people. But there’s a problem. Because this land is a fertile area, others have settled there during the Israelites absence. And those people may not be willing to step aside and let these ex-slaves take over prime real estate. Israel will be leaving one brutal exsistence only to step into a time of violent war to secure what God has promised them. Doesn’t sound like God is doing much “rescuing” here. In fact, it sounds downright cruel, but that’s only because we don’t understand the larger picture. Reading the story now from the comfort of my couch, I can reread parts or skip ahead and only then can I see God’s hand throughout this. God does have a purpose for everything He does and can draw something positive out of everything that He puts us through.

Let’s take a closer look at the story. Why were they in Egypt anyway? Weren’t they supposed to stay in the land the God had promised to Abraham? If you recall, they left during a time of famine to find food. At this point in their history, we see the sons of Jacob intermarrying with the Canaanites and the family is in danger of losing their relationship with God as they interact with other cultures. The exile into Egypt actually forces them to depend on God as never before. When they return to Canaan, after years of slavery and another 40 years wandering the desert, they now know exactly where their strength and safety come from. They have been transformed from a ragtag family group to an army of faith-filled warriors. They will still make mistakes and unwise choices but they have learned to depend of God.

That has been a great lesson for me. Sometimes when I find myself in a bad situation, I have to remind myself that God is still there. He is still protecting me and most likely has a lesson for me so I better start paying attention. The problem for me is that I tend to equate God’s rescue with putting me in a place of safety and are then disappointed when I find that I still have problems to face and dragons to fight. I’ve come to realize that God does not keep trouble from happening. Trouble is what living in a fallen world is all about. God will help us, strengthen us and even rescue us from those dragons. He may also send us right back out there to fight a new dragonfiery dragon. This is where I get confused and cry out, “Lord, why me?” Sound familiar? It’s hard to remember that whatever comes at us is always either from His hands or at least, allowed by His hand, perhaps a consequence from your own actions. The trick is to learn to trust that hand. Even when we aren’t allowed to see down the road to prepare for those dragons that await us – trust that God’s hands are holding you, protecting you, guiding you through it. Whether you are able to enjoy the ride or are just clinging to the hem of His robe (been there!) – hang on! Sometimes He will take us out of one unhealthy situation only to face another one, but we are safe with Him. Maybe it’s just that He defines “safe” differently than we do.

dragon-1And keep in mind that dragons are just imaginary creatures – God is very real!